Gasparilla to get more police, faster response in nearby Tampa neighborhoods

Tampa plans a bigger police presence and more portable toilets for 2010’s Gasparilla parade after residents of surrounding areas complained of paradegoers’ behavior.

ALEXANDRA ZAYAS | Times

Tampa plans a bigger police presence and more portable toilets for 2010’s Gasparilla parade after residents of surrounding areas complained of paradegoers’ behavior.

TAMPA — Gasparilla partiers headed to the next annual bacchanalia beware: Police will be watching you.

The number of officers on hand for the parade will increase from 210 to 260, Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin told the City Council on Thursday. They could be stationed in observation towers and use cameras to monitor crowds, and people who live near the route will have officers' cell phone numbers so they can report inappropriate behavior. The Police Department is coordinating its plans with the State Attorney's Office.

"We're going to make a lot of quality-of-life arrests, and we want to make sure that they are going to prosecute those arrests," Hamlin said. "These things that seem like they were once tolerated won't be tolerated anymore."

Police will be on the lookout for people drinking alcohol in neighborhoods outside the wet-zoned area along the parade route, engaging in sex acts and urinating in public.

This year's Gasparilla prompted complaints from people who live near the Bayshore Boulevard parade route about excessively bad behavior.

So city officials and event organizers developed plans to rein in the event, which attracts as many as 350,000 people.

In addition to a greater police presence, plans call for doubling the number of portable toilets from 800 to 1,600. That's going to cost event organizers $76,000, which was about what the entire parade cost in 1992, said Darrell Stefany, whose company, EventFest, coordinates the festivities.

"We can put Port-O-Lets all over the place, but we've got to get people to use them," Stefany said.

Plans also call for limiting the waterside reserved seating area to between Bay to Bay Boulevard and Howard Avenue and extending the parade route downtown to thin out the crowds.

School leaders will talk to students about underage drinking in advance of the Jan. 30 parade, and South Tampa homeowners who host parties where there's underage drinking will be sought out.

"The last thing we want to do is arrest 5,000 young people for underage drinking," said Santiago Corrada, the city's administrator for neighborhood services. "They are expected to abide by city ordinances and behave the day of the parade."

Hamlin said the city wants people to enjoy the event, but it's important to address issues that have raised neighborhood concerns.

"We understand that we're going to have to change the culture not only of the event­goers but also the police. They can't ignore behaviors, even if they're not criminal, that may lead to these kinds of interruptions of the quiet and the peace of the neighborhoods," Hamlin said. "It might take several years before the message gets out that this isn't a free-for-all."

Harold Walker, who lives along the parade route, offered a tip of the hat to Stefany and the Police Department for the new rules.

"Situations that were beyond belief have happened over the last several years," he said.

But he still expressed worries about plans to put 56 portable toilets in the Hyde Park neighborhood. He would rather see them farther from the parade route.

Walter Crumbley, who lives near S Howard Avenue and its popular bars and restaurants, said the mayhem continues after the parade, with people screaming and yelling long into the night and vandalizing the neighborhood.

"All night long from the end of the parade on we've got cars racing up and down the streets and fighting for parking spaces so they can be closer to the bars," he said. Crumbley asked for a larger police presence there even after the parade ends.

Hamlin said stepped-up efforts could continue in SoHo after the parade ends, but Ybor City and Channelside also become party spots that need attention.

Council member John Dingfelder suggested asking grocery, liquor and convenience stores near the parade route to voluntarily halt alcohol sales on parade day. He wants to send a letter to them making the request. The council will vote on whether to send the letter next week. He also said that if the new rules don't work, the council should consider not allowing alcohol sales along the parade route. Beer tents are currently allowed as fundraisers for nonprofit organizations. The council approves permits for those sales.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena said all the changes show good progress.

"The cultural shift we're talking about is ambitious. It's very ambitious," she said. "Hopefully things can become more civil."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Gasparilla to get more police, faster response in nearby Tampa neighborhoods 10/22/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009 12:55am]

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